A Department of Justice memo sent to U.S. attorneys urges federal prosecutors to bring harsh penalties against rioters and even sedition charges could possibly apply, according to a report.
The Associated Press stated Thursday:
The sedition statute doesn’t require proof of a plot to overthrow the government, the memo read. It instead could be used when a defendant tries to oppose the government’s authority by force.
Attorney General William Barr has been pushing his U.S. attorneys to bring federal charges in protest-related violence whenever they can, keeping a grip on cases even if a defendant could be tried instead in state court. Federal convictions often result in longer prison sentences; sedition alone could lead to up to 20 years behind bars.
The memo cited as a hypothetical example “a group has conspired to take a federal courthouse or other federal property by force,” but the real thing took place in Portland, Oregon, during clashes that erupted night after night between law enforcement and demonstrators.
The report comes after Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec confirmed that the federal agency looked into whether it could bring criminal or civil rights charges against local officials due to ongoing violence in their cities.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Barr asked federal prosecutors to explore whether Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) could be charged over her city’s police-free “autonomous zone” — known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) — which was closed down in the wake of violence and two shootings.
Durkan took to social media to responded to the Times‘ report, branding it “chilling” and the “latest abuse of power” by the Trump administration. “This is not a story about me. It’s about the how this President and his Attorney General are willing to subvert the law and use the DOJ for political purposes,” she added.
This report is chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration. This is not a story about me. It’s about the how this President and his Attorney General are willing to subvert the law and use the DOJ for political purposes.https://t.co/vPJJwuB5az
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) September 17, 2020
Barr has repeatedly slammed Democrats over their response to the ongoing civil unrest and riots sparks by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.
“What makes me concerned for the country is [that] this is the first time in my memory that the leaders of one of our great two political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attack on federal courts,” Barr told House Judiciary Committee members in July.
“Why can’t we just say: ‘Violence against federal courts has to stop?’” he added. “Could we hear something like that?”
300 people have been arrested on federal crimes since protests began over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody, according to an analysis conducted by the AP.